'A footprint means pressing down and global means world, so 'global footprint' means pressing down on the world and we don't want to press too hard' (child's definition of a Global Footprint)
what is Global Learning? CoreKnowledge Key Skills Values and Attitudes what is sustainability? what about climate change?
what about climate change?

Khasdobir Youth Action Group, Sylhet.
Report for Global Footprints, December 2000

Ahmed is a boy of 5. He lives in Chowkidekhi, where some of the poorest families in the area live. His family's home is just a small, one-roomed hut, with bamboo poles forming the corners, and wattle and daub walls (like peasant homes in mediaeval England). The roof is thatched (a few houses have tin roofs, which are longer lasting but much more expensive) and a mud floor. Everyone shares this one room. Large beds are the only furniture.

Cooking is done on an open fire outside the hut. A shallow tube well is the only source of pure water for some 20 families, who also share one latrine.

Ahmed's father, like most of the men in Chowkidekhi, is a rickshaw driver. He doesn't have the money to buy a rickshaw, he hires one by the day from a local man who lives by renting out the four or five rickshaws he owns. A rickshaw is a large tricycle and acts as a kind of local taxi, the commonest, and cheapest, form of transport for short journeys in Sylhet.

Pedalling a rickshaw is hard physical labour. They are large, iron tricycles, with no form of gear, and carry two people on a little seat at the back. The driver has to stand on the pedals, and strain every sinew, to move it up even the gentlest slope. He can only charge a few pence for each ride so, if he is to cover the rental on the rickshaw, and buy the day's food for the family, he has to work long hours. Many rickshaw drivers die before they are 40.

Everything in Sylhet works on a daily basis. Ahmed's father has to pay the rental on his rickshaw every day. He stops at the little village shop on his way home each day to buy that day's food - mainly rice and dahl. The family awaits his return each evening, wondering whether he will have earned enough for them to eat.

Neither of Ahmed's parents can read or write; neither had any schooling at all. They can't therefore teach him his letters and so he won't be able to enter primary school. In any event by the time he is 7 or 8 he'll be expected to earn money, by helping to push handcarts, or by selling things his mother makes in a local market, or by begging. But, like many parents in Chowkidekhi they have been persuaded to allow Ahmed to attend an
open-air school that operates each morning in the yard in front of someone's house.

There are about 75 children in the yard, sitting on the ground. There's a blackboard in front of them, and each child has a slate and a piece of chalk. The Bangla letters and numbers are written on the board and one of the children is called to the front to point to the letters and to lead the rest as they chant them out. Then they copy the letters on their slates and the two young men who teach them move round, pointing out mistakes and encouraging them. The children, aged between 4 and 7, spend two years in a School Under The Sky, beginning to learn to read and write, and to count, before going on to the government primary school.

By English standards the teaching methods are obviously very dated, more like a Victorian village school than anything that would be recognised by today's teachers or children. The 'teachers' are not trained teachers, simply young people offering their services, using methods by which they themselves were taught. KYAG is concerned to arrange some basic training for them but also has to recognise that the numbers of children provides a restraint on what methods can be used. At most of the Schools Under The Sky there are 40 or more children to every teacher.

We also have to remember that these open-air schools have a specific and limited aim - to equip the children for entry to primary school and to convince their parents of the importance of education. The pastoral role of the teachers is at least as important as their teaching role. It is the teachers who have to visit the families and persuade them of the value of education. It is the teachers who must be aware of any particular problems - like illness or unemployment - which a family is facing and the additional help that they may need. We are dealing with parents who are living on the margins, had no education themselves and simply don't see it as important. The simple fact that so many children are now being educated is the measure of the importance of the Schools Under The Sky.

Ken Prideaux-Brune
Friends of Khasdobir
15 December 2000